Mini Review: Play with Me! by Michelle Lee

playwithmeEver on the lookout for new and unique books for my young niece, I stumbled upon this at a bookstore and thought it would be perfect. While I absolutely loved the darling illustrations and how the dialogue seemed to dance across the page, I wish the ending was a bit heavier hitting. This is ultimately a story about compromise: learning that what you want to do might not be what others want to do and that sometimes you have to come up with a new idea that either satisfies both of you or pick a solo activity. However, the book concludes with one of the characters suggesting a new activity at the very end of the book, without hinting that it was a compromise at all. Unless an adult works in that lesson, I think it might hard for a very young reader to take away the main message.

Publication Date: 24 January 2017 by G. P. Putnam’s Sons Books for Young ReadersFormat: Hardcover.

Author/Illustrator: Michelle Lee web

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Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng

image1 (11)Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng is the best book that I have read in 2018 and I have already recommended it to at least 10 people in one week. I liked the novel so much that I’m trying to think of the best way to succinctly describe it without giving away too much of the story… the actual pieces of the story aren’t necessarily riveting enough to make you think that this will be one of the best reads you’ll stumble upon this year, but the nuts and bolts are brilliant! Don’t sleep on this book just because the synopsis isn’t immediately gripping!

The author, Ng, expertly weaves together several characters, revealing snippets of their consciences and actions effervescently. The characters, many of which have different, conflicting personalities and perspectives, are deftly captured, causing the reader to sympathize with characters they may have initially detested. A theme that recurs for many of the characters is their struggle to understand the priorities and beliefs of a character juxtaposed with them and their choice to either lean into rigidity and rules or to seemingly be float away from those expectations. Some of the main bits that characters consider during their sensemaking processes are the nature of parent-child relationships and the underpinning of race at a point in America where many people were claiming not to see race. The latter piece specifically manifests around the differing public opinions about a white couple adopting a Chinese baby, a local issue that ultimately divides the suburb.

Because of the novel’s insightful, biting critique of suburbia and the expectation that a suburb’s implicit ideals are universally upheld by its residents, the book reminded me slightly of Big Little Lies (minus the underlying murderous currents). Similar to that tale, Little Fires Everywhere is also being adapted into a television series with Reese Witherspoon attached and I cannot wait to watch it! I know the vague synopsis alone may not sound compelling enough to read this book, but please snatch it up to dive into this world before it’s on screen! I’ll be sure to also check out Ng’s debut, Everything I Never Told You, before the year concludes too.

Publication Date: 12 September 2017 by Penguin PressFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Celeste Ng web/@twitter/@instagram

Emergency Contact by Mary H. K. Choi

IMG_8396This is a book that I definitely judged by its cover, adding it to my list before a fuller blurb was even attached to the novel. I mean, just look at how beautiful the cover of Emergency Contact is! I’m happy that the cover persuaded me to fall into this lil’ book that the author, Mary H. K. Choi, described as a book where “high-key nothing happens.” But SO MUCH does happen within the pages of this YA novel that I think I’ll reread it a few times in my life.

Instead of having a linear story with a clear beginning, middle, and end with a nice resolution, this book read to me like an in depth character study of the two main narrators: Penny, a Korean teen who is desperate to escape her wannabe BFF mom when she flees to university, and Sam, a white young adult who is trying to navigate his goals and aspirations whilst having limited resources and a shoddy support system. 

A lot of this book feels like a lil’ love letter to Austin, TX, a place that is lodged fondly in my heart. For most of the book, Penny is learning how to live away from her mother, is struggling with her first writing course (this book features lots of built in lessons for aspiring writers) as she tries to determine how to weave the best science fiction tales, and learning how to make friends with her roommate and her emergency contact, Sam. Sam is mostly working in a bakery and coffee shop as he tries to get his life back on track, and figure out what that track even is, after a bit of a detour. I loved being immersed into these character’s minds as they interacted with each other and their own lives. Sometimes, pieces of the book felt like streams of consciousness, with surprising bits discovered along the way. Head’s up: Emergency Contact does feature a detailed description of a sexual assault that caught me completely off guard, mirroring the way one is typically not expecting to hear a similar story of a friend when they initially share that a similar, horrible thing has happened to them. It was moving, well-written, and a helpful text for readers to have as they shape their understanding of what sexual assault is, but if that is a topic that is difficult to read for you, it may be best to skip this book. 

All in all, if you enjoy movies where little revelations about the characters are made along the way and the journey alone is satisfying to you without having a bow-tied final scene, you’ll enjoy this book. If the idea of that makes you want to run away, skip this book.

Publication Date: 27 March 2018 by Simon and SchusterFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Mary H. K. Choi web/@twitter/@instagram

I Can’t Date Jesus: Love, Sex, Family, Race, and Other Reasons I’ve Put My Faith in Beyoncé by Michael Arceneaux

image1 (9)I really thought I was going to go through all of 2018 only reading books written by women, but Michael Arcenaux’s debut I Can’t Date Jesus sounded too intriguing to ignore. Despite not reading any of Arceneaux’s work before, I really enjoyed reading his memoir essays. He’s a big shot in the journalism world, particularly known for writing from the gay and black POV, but you don’t need to know his previous work to dive into this! Arceneaux brilliantly writes about the tensions between his family, religion, sexuality, professional goals, Beyoncé, and beyond. I dug all of the Texas references (some of my favorites were deep cuts that people outside of Texas might not understand… but people read that kind of stuff all of the time about NYC, so don’t let that dissuade you) and enjoyed reading about his reflections upon how his experiences, both during youth and more recently, have greatly shaped the man Arceneaux is today.

Disclaimer: I was provided with a digital copy of this book for free from Atria Books via NetGalley. All opinions expressed in the review are my own and have not been influenced by Atria Books or NetGalley.

Publication Date: 24 July 2018 by Atria BooksFormat: ARC e-book.

Author: Michael Arceneaux web/@twitter/@instagram

The Wedding Date by Jasmine Guillory

image1 (8)The Wedding Date, the debut novel from Jasmine Guillory, delighted me from start to finish! This snazzy book encapsulates a romcom that I kept imagining as a movie in my head (make this into a movie! I will watch in my pjs while drinking hot cocoa and listening to the rain hit my windows!!). The story switches between the two main narrators, Alexa, a powerful lawyer now working for the mayor of Berkeley, and Drew, a powerful pediatrician, who spontaneously meet in a broken elevator (Shonda — produce this as a movie! I know you love a good elevator scene!) and have instant chemistry. What follows are the twists and turns of trying to figure out the beginnings of situationship (not agreed to being a relationship at the beginning, but kinda spurred on by a random situation) and the anxieties that can play into entering an undefined repeated encounter with someone that you’re desperate for more of. The characters are cute, have funny flaws, and I loved reading their thoughts! The book also got me excited about San Francisco, where the majority of the book takes place and where I’ll be living this summer. Head’s up: this book does describe *quite* a few sex scenes, and while I might be a bit prude-ish in that I find more than one scene in a book to be gratuitous, I still had so much fun reading this book and you especially will if this is your cup of tea! You can bet that Guillory’s second book, The Proposal, is already on my To-Read list.

Publication Date: 30 January 2018 by Berkley BooksFormat: Paperback.

Author: Jasmine Guillory web/@twitter/@instagram/facebook

Eat Up: Food, Appetite and Eating What You Want by Ruby Tandoh

image1 (6)I’ve gotta be upfront: I love Ruby Tandoh, the author of Eat Up. She was one of my favorite contestants on reality show Great British Bake Off and the co-editor of a lil zine that I adored (click for review). In this book and in all things, Tandoh has an approach to talking about the human relationship with food that I instantly devoured and wish more people were shouting about from the rooftops.

While Tandoh is more explicit about her personal relationship with food in Do What You Want and vocal about her condemnation of “clean eating” in interviews, the basics of these pieces are wrapped up in Eat Up too. “Clean eating” and other diets often lead to regimented eating patterns that very closely resemble (and/or are the same depending on your viewpoint) eating disorders. This approach clearly shapes the contents of Eat Up because Tandoh isn’t here to tell you how or what to eat. She wants to eat what you want and to quit being so judgmental about your own eating habits and others.

Along with this, Tandoh also comments on foodie culture and the class implications that are so often tied up with food: Who gets to spend hours making food without worrying about other time demands? Who gets to experiment with flavors and go to expensive restaurants? Who gets to spend time imagining experimenting with flavors and recipes? Why are some foods traditionally made by certain groups of people dismissed from popular consumption? These are important things to consider, especially as food experiences become one of the clearest markers of class in today’s world. This is an important read, and one I’m happy to have gobbled up before going to visit my family where I’m always annoying about my preference for fresh over canned vegetables. It’s completely fine for me to have that preference, but who am I to judge others for preferring the purchase price and ease of preparation of the other? Eat Up influenced me to take a step back and I’m thankful for that.

Publication Date: 1 February 2018 (U.K.) by Serpent’s TailFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Ruby Tandoh blog/@instagram

Chemistry by Weike Wang

image1 (4)As someone currently stumbling through a PhD program, I was delighted to read a book about a character tripping, falling, and removing themselves from similar circumstances. PhD programs are super weird and demanding in different ways that are hard to explain to people who haven’t pursued one so I gobble up opportunities to hear about experiences, even fictional, navigating the strange world of PhDs. 

Chemistry by Weike Wang is almost like a diary/stream of consciousness of the main, unnamed character. She’s in a Chemistry PhD program, which are known to be notoriously demanding because of time required to be physically present in a lab to run experiments, and she’s completely flailing. Some of the “chapters” are simply written with thoughts that sometimes seem half-formed, as if they are the real thoughts of someone who is feeling quite a bit lost and not sure of where to turn next. 

The main character has Chinese parents who are no longer in the U.S. and their extreme expectations for the main character highlight her struggle between the “American dream” and her parents’ evaluation of what it means to succeed in America. This is juxtaposed with her white, American boyfriend’s comparatively easy experience of success because he isn’t simultaneously struggling to barely meet his parents’ expectations of all of the things they perceive he should also be accomplishing.  Most of the struggle in this book is related to the main character’s  parents’ expectations and demands not aligning with what would ultimately help her reach personal and professional happiness and the juxtaposition of the ease of her boyfriend to excel through the same program. 

Some readers may wish that this had more depth, but I enjoyed the brevity! There are some beautiful little bits (the deer metaphor was my favorite!) that are sandwiched in here that would be easy to miss if you were speed reading. I suspect that enjoyment of this book might be limited to those familiar with PhD programs or those interested in the family dynamics. If either of those sound like stories you want to read, scoop this up!

Publication Date: 23 May 2017 by Knopf PublishingFormat: Hardcover.

Author: Weike Wang bio